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Newsletter (in English)

Women’s rights

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| Categories: Super-Paper

Women account for 70 % of the 1.2 billion people living below the poverty line in the world today. Women suffer oppression because of their gender in every country in the world. But for the poor, daily institutional sexism amounts to horrific drudgery and living conditions. Poor women and girls have little access to education – when education has to be paid for boys come first: there are twice as many women as men among the world’s 900 million people who cannot read or write. Women are paid less and work longer: women work 67% of the world’s working hours, and produce 50% of the world’s food, yet they earn only 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1% of the world’s property.

The world’s leaders at the G8 Summit in 2005 trotted out shocking facts such as these and made worthy speeches about reducing poverty and improving women’s lives but the simple fact is, all they ever intended was some minor debt cancellation (that would never have been recouped anyway), and some good publicity.

How should we fight women’s oppression today? There are women’s campaigns and organisations all over the world with different emphases and methods of struggle ranging from self help community associations in the semi-colonial (developing) world, to student activism, to liberal pressure groups.

Middle class career minded feminists put their faith in change through more women taking part in parliamentary politics (they don’t even mind which party they support!) or getting high up jobs in the professions. But “Blair’s babes”, Ségolène Royale and Angela Merkel or many more like them will not lift the world’s women out of poverty and oppression. A recent upsurge in student based activism in Europe and the US has taken a ‘radical feminist’ approach, focusing on campaigns against pornography, sexist imagery in ‘lad’s mags’, and lapdancing clubs.

Working on the old assumption that “if porn is the theory, rape is the practice”, and citing “patriarch”’ as the root cause of women’s oppression, they tend to see all men as inherently sexist. Feminist influenced NGOs have used women’s role as main carers in the family to try and use their perceived greater sense of responsibility to counter poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They promote microredit schemes where women take out small loans so that they can set up small businesses to contribute to family subsistence.

All of these methods of fighting oppression are ultimately dead ends as they do not begin with a class analysis. Women’s issues are class issues. If the right to abortion is attacked or denied in a particular country, working class women either have to go through with an unwanted pregnancy or risk their lives by hiring a back street abortionist. Wherever they live, wealthy women can pay for an abortion even if it means taking a holiday to a country with more liberal laws to get one.

For wealthy women, it doesn’t matter if the state doesn’t provide nurseries, health care, education or care for the disabled or elderly, they can always buy these services. For the working class woman, lack of services means exploitation at work followed by drudgery at home. Women of all classes suffer sexist violence but domestic violence thrives in working class families living in despair on the breadline, and the women in greatest danger of assault and rape are those working the streets as prostitutes, often driven there by drug addiction or destitution. Working class women should organise to fight oppression and the class society that created and nurtures it. We should fight to build good quality free health and education services, to fight sexism at work and in the labour movement, for equal pay and decent jobs, for a woman’s right to choose, for decriminalisation of prostitution and against violence against women. But it is vital that we take our demands into the parties and organisations of the working class for without socialism there can be no women’s liberation and without women’s liberation there can be no socialism!

by Alison from Sheffield,

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